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Generations of Generosity

Sermon 9/11/05
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Psalm 145: 1-13a

Our text for reflection this morning comes from Psalm 145: 

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.

2 Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.

3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.

4 One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness.

7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your faithful shall bless you.

11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,

12 to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

Last Sunday as we were gathered in here in worship and taking our offering for the survivors of hurricane Katrina, someone was taking their own offering of our laptop computer that powers that projector, helped themselves to my office and some other equipment, and off it went.  I was a little perturbed, you know -- nothing is sacred anymore, even in the church and the inner sanctums of my office! -- when I discovered the theft, until it dawned on me that whatever dear, desperate soul took that, now has all of those praise songs of music from that first service.  May they truly be blessed, as they find all of that on that computer J.

So at any rate, we're working with backup equipment this morning.  Yesterday I went to the Apple store to purchase one of the pieces of equipment that walked off (the little clicker that was in the computer bay) and paid for it with a credit card.  As I was signing for it I hesitated for the date.  The helpful sales clerk said it was September 10th, of course, noting that today would be September 11th, which brought her to comment on all the media hype and made-for-T.V. movies and all the attention on this day.  And then she made an interesting comment:  she said "I think it is really sad that there are people I know who's birthday is on Sept 11th and they are skipping their birthday".  [I'd like to skip my birthday, but that's another thing J].

And it suddenly dawned on me that the Bryant families are celebrating birthdays today.  My wife's birthday was last week, my father's birthday tomorrow, and so this afternoon we will be celebrating Dad's 75th birthday, and Judy's _0th-something birthday J.

So on this September 11th as candles are lit, services are held, songs are sung, prayers are said to remember the victims of that tragedy and their families, the Bryant family will be blowing out candles.  And singing Happy Birthday.  We'll be opening gifts and telling stories.  We'll be laughing at jokes.  We will be celebrating life and family.  Blessings and health.  Children and parents.  Summer vacations, and yes, most importantly of all, Duck victories!  Amen.

That's the way it should be -- life is right in the world.  But then on Friday (it always seems to be on Friday), though not together, the five siblings and spouses and father will undoubtedly pause, recalling a song, saying a prayer, lighting a candle, each in our own way remembering, observing the 7th anniversary of the death of our mother.  

And so it is in the midst of anniversaries and birthdays, of joy and grief, and even in the midst of life and death and the aftermath of hurricane Katrina that we join with the Psalmist to bless the name of God whose mighty acts are told from one generation to the next, and whose abundant goodness and compassion is shared with all.  This is the way life is and should be.

The stewardship emphasis for this Fall, as we've already said, draws its theme -- Generations of Generosity -- from this Psalm.  And it invites us to meditate not only on the wondrous works of God but the proclamation of God's abundant goodness from generation to generation.  And it suggests that it is the goodness of God found in human hearts which is the foundation of all generosity.

There's a difference between generosity and charity, though sometimes we confuse the two.  Charity gives the beggar a dollar and thereby teaches that person to continue begging.  Generosity gives the beggar new hope and thereby teaches the possibilities of new life.  Charity gives ten dollars, twenty, a hundred, maybe more and responds to the disaster along the gulf coast.  But generosity gives people a chance to start over again, a chance at new life.  Charity gives out of what is left over at the end of the week.  Generosity gives a tithe of 10% or more at the start of the week -- off the top.  You see there's a different spirit to generosity.  A different character.  And the work of God is not about charity, the work of God is about generosity precisely because it is rooted in God's abundant, overflowing goodness.  Shared not just with some, not just with the chosen people, not with just the good and righteous and God's favorites, but shared, the Psalmist says, with all of God's creation.

As my father completes three quarters of a century, and I enter into my third quarter of a century (although I don't look like I'm 1/2-a-century old, it's true J -- you were supposed to say that!), I am ever more mindful of how much I have benefited from the generation of my parents and others before me.  When you're young and your whole life is before you, you don't think about those things.  Ah, but when you are half-a-century wise, and the experience you have gained from parenting for yourself, you appreciate all the more what your parents endured for your sake.  

Take teaching your children to drive, for example.  I remember to this very day, with crystal clarity, that day on which I got my driver's license.  My 16th birthday of course.  And the date I took that evening out in my father's car.  Would I allow my daughter to go out with a 16-year-old who had just gotten his license?  Under no circumstances!

Fortunately, that is now illegal in Oregon law.  You have to be driving for 6 months -- yes, Amen!  As my daughter reminded me in the first service, you have to be driving for 6 months before you can take anyone who is not in your family in your car.  I'm sure that our legislators had other things in mind besides just the safety of their children.

And it's only now, having sat in the passenger seat, not too many months ago with my then 15-year-old daughter in the drivers seat, out at the parking lot at Autzen stadium (a wide, vast space with few obstacles!), that I can imagine now the drama that my mother and father must have been going through when they taught me how to drive, oh, 20 years ago.

That I remember nothing of their trauma, and only of my excitement and joy, speaks volumes of the grace and the goodwill with which they undertook that trying task. 

A few years back there was a letter to the editor that caught my attention and hooked my ire.  Calling the unfortunate of our society little more than welfare cheats and freeloaders, this writer said that he made it in this world by himself -- a self-made man.  Pulled himself up from the proverbial bootstraps.  And couldn't understand why everyone else couldn't do the same.  As if his parents had nothing to do with that upbringing.  As if the schools he attended contributed nothing to his education (which judging from his letter, I think maybe not).  As if the music and the art and the poetry of our culture were all his own work.  As if the roads and the courts and the public institutions were never used by him.  Are we truly aware in conscience of every moment of how dependent we are upon those who came before us for everything that we have?

When Carl Blood died a year or two ago, we lost the last member of this church who was here when this building was erected in 1911.  Now think about that for a minute.  It's not that Carl remembers it -- he was only an infant at the time -- but his parents were members of the church.  He was here when this building was built.  The saints, you see, who established this congregation in 1866, and who erected this magnificent house of God in 1911, they're all gone.  They're long gone.  Our ministry to be a light to the world here in the heart of Eugene would be vastly different (if it existed at all) were it not for the generosity of those past generations and the legacy that they left for us to carry on.

The question now is:  what will be the legacy that we leave to the generation that follows us?

Will it speak of the abundance of God's goodness to us?  Will it witness to the generosity that grew out of our faith?

Grace Morris was one of the true saints of this church, many of you remember, who taught the women's business bible class for 51 and a half years.  Our chapel now carries her name -- the chapel that was essentially built to accommodate that class.  When Grace died in 1994 her bequest to the church enabled us to establish a permanent building endowment with its first $100,000.  And at the time we set up that endowment, with Jessie Bork's considerable help, her closest confidant, our goal was to build the endowment to the point where this building would be totally self-sufficient.  And we said that we thought it would take in the neighborhood of 1 million dollars to do that.  At the time it was a pipe dream -- would any of us ever see that day?  I'm pleased to announce to you that with the contributions of other bequests, including the likes of Martha Goodrich and H.A. Toothaker, and sometime in the next year that of Jessie Bork, we will nearly be three-quarters of the way toward that goal of 1 million dollars.  Can I hear an Amen?

Now why is that important?  When we reach that goal, 100% of the regular offerings that we give, that you put into the offering plate, 100% of it will go to the ministry and mission of the congregation to make a difference in people's lives, rather than to the upkeep of an old and aging building.  I dream for that day.  I wait for that day.  [Applause from the congregation].  It will be an exciting day -- and we are this close.

Now I don't anticipate anyone giving $250,000 or so in the next week or two, but if someone can, let me know and we'll accommodate you J.  So I want to challenge us to think in the long term.  To think of those future generations.  Of your grandchildren's grandchildren.  What legacy will we leave behind for them?

In the next two decades, 41 trillion dollars will pass from one generation to the next.  I can't even begin to fathom how much money it is, I just know it was more than I got in my paycheck last week.  41 trillion dollars -- $41,000,000,000,000!  I would suggest to you, therefore, that the single most important document that you will ever create in your lifetime is what?  Your will.  Because that document will live on long after you cease to live on this earth.

So I have two questions -- number one, do you have a will?  And number two -- what evidence, what concrete evidence does it give it to your faith and the abundant goodness of God?

You see, all of us here who have in some way benefited from the ministries of this church are beneficiaries of the generosity of Jessie, and Martha, and H.A. and Grace.  And the many others whose love for God and Christ's church was made tangible and long-lasting (if not eternal) through their bequests.

But then why wait until you're dead to share the generosity in your heart, if you have the good fortune to do so?  Where is the fun in that, if you can't enjoy seeing the fruits of that work?

One of the exciting new tools, of which there are many now--charitable gift annuities and the like--of which I just learned from our Christian Church Foundation is called the Stewards Bank.  It is a donor-advised fund that works something like this:  Fred & Sally in their 40s receive an inheritance, that they don't particularly need.  They both have good incomes, and they feel fairly secure and they want to do something good with that money.  I could suggest a lot of things they could do with it, but being smarter than me, they decide they want to invest it in a way that will continue giving a long time after they're gone.  And so they make an irrevocable gift to the Christian Church Foundation, fully tax deductible, to establish a Stewards Bank.  The Christian Church Foundation invests it, so they don't have to worry about any of those details.  Here's where it actually gets fun:  at Christmas time they sit down with their family, with their children (they could do it any time of the year, but Christmas just seems to feel right), and they talk about their faith, they talk about their Church, they talk about all of the organizations that they support and believe in, and then they look at the earnings from that Stewards Bank and they tell the Christian Church Foundation what to do with those earnings.  The Foundation just has one requirement -- that 51% or more of it go to a church-related cause, Disciples related.  Can be a congregation like ours, could be a school like Northwest Christian College, can be Week of Compassion and the efforts to help the survivors of disaster.

But the rest, they can choose for anything -- Habitat for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders, name your favorite charity.  And so they are able to give without taking a single cent more out of their own pockets, out of their own accounts.  They are able to share of that accumulated wealth.  And in addition, they have the satisfaction of knowing that the original sum will continue to increase as it is invested by the Foundation and then will go to the charity of their choice that they set up at the beginning upon their own death.

Now there are many other such creative financial tools which are available to us to make us better stewards by maximizing our resources not just for our own benefit but for generations to come.  Generations, who, when looking back, will give thanks for the generosity and the faith of those who came before them.  

Praise be to God, from who all blessings flow.


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